Israelis, Palestinians, and Yom Kippur

In Jewish Tradition, the process of redressing a wrong involves several stages, and they apply to the relationship with other people as well as the relationship with the Almighty. The first necessary step in the road to a clean slate is to acknowledge we have erred. Without acknowledging that something is wrong, the whole process would be meaningless. More important, however, is that acknowledging that something is wrong involves a level of maturity in doing the acknowledging. If we cannot even recognize the mistake, we will not be able to learn anything from the process of forgiveness - so the whole process would be a waste of time...

The second stage is the asking of forgiveness - that is the public healing of telling somebody "I hurt you, I'm sorry" in front of others. It is quite a cleansing experience for it allows us to unburden our psyche and to restore some degree of dignity to those we offended or hurt.

But of course, while acknowledging and apologizing is very nice it would be meaningless if after doing it we go back to hurting people as we did before. The purpose of the process is to learn from experience. After acknowledging, after apologizing, comes the true test: to change the way we do things so we don't make again the same mistake. If we don't change our behavior, we have been a fake through the process and our feeble attempts at redressing the wrong are completely meaningless in my opinion.

So it is clear what all this has to do with Yom Kippur, but what is the connection with Israelis and Palestinians? God knows that the reconciliation within the family is probably the most difficult, the most bitter, and the one that involves the strongest passions...and the Palestinians are our cousins - or if you believe the recent findings of Hadassah Hospital genetic research, even our siblings.

In 1993, Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin exchanged letters mutually acknowledging each other. That was the recognition that the mutual perceptions of the other as "non Nation" was mistaken. It certainly fulfilled the requirements of the first stage of the process. In  those days, hopes and expectations ran high on both sides...maybe too high.

The 1993 exchange of letters was never follow up by the asking of forgiveness by either side. Neither side believed they were the ones who needed to ask for forgiveness. Truth, Israelis did it in an implicit way by relinquishing territory to Palestinian control, but the idea of a public acknowledgement that would help restore the dignity of the other demanded more. As for the Palestinians, they didn't even make the attempt because Arafat played the role of the one who was blameless (!!!)

There is no point in even addressing the issue of whether the mutual behavior changed, because to a larger or smaller extent, neither side believed they needed to change - the other needed to change.

Having said that, it is necessary to recognize that the Israeli attitude went a lot farther than the Palestinian in the road to redressing the wrongs. Palestinians, or at least their leaders, saw the newly gained control over Palestinian society as an opportunity to impose their rule on their people and to use that society as a launching pad for further attacks on Israel in what appeared to be a never ending crescendo, culminating in the launching of Arafat's war (the Intifadah) in 2000.

Arafat successors, however, disagree with Arafat's approach. In the Gaza Strip Hamas is very clear when they say that they will never accept the presence of Israel and that their ultimate goal is the destruction of the Jewish State - thus undoing what Arafat did in 1993 and again dehumanizing the "other" (the Israeli, the Jew). As for Abbas (Abu Mazen), in the beginning he appeared to be willing to take the relationship to a new level, but his actions in the last few weeks speak louder than words. The attempt to gain UN recognition and membership while bypassing any negotiation with Israel is, in fact, un-recognizing Israel; it is erasing whatever Arafat wrote in 1993 - poor as even that letter was. Abbas was clear: a future Palestine will have to be without Jews, and the 1967 lines are only the beginning ("baseline") for further Israeli concessions. To put it mildly, Abu Mazen is really saying that Israelis can only get whatever he gives them as sufferance - he denies the National quality of Jewish Identity, denies the Jewish connection to the land and is ready to "unite" with's that for rolling back progress?

It is obvious that this Yom Kippur will not bring reconciliation between the children of Abraham, but maybe - just maybe - it can bring some measure of maturity to their leaders that will allow people to come around the table and discuss the grievances. Israelis appear to be ready...Abu Mazen decided that the UN process was too long, so he decided to apply for full membership at UN committees starting with UNESCO. This is the same UNESCO that decided that Rachel's tomb was a mosque with no Jewish connection, the Tomb of the Patriarchs another mosque, and Maimonides a muslim Egyptian doctor by name "Mussa Ibn Maimun".

Not being willing to talk with the other means not to recognize the other as a person nor grant the other the same dignity and respect we ask for ourselves. May the next Yom Kippur bring better tides, because this Yom Kippur is apparently already wasted.


Add Comment